The Beauty of the Pinch Hit
Wall Street Journal's The Juggle blog covers a common maternal problem today. It's the idea that sometimes we can take the 'easy' way out and do a childcare task ourselves rather than find a way to share in doing it. Once one parent - typically Mom - gets adept at packing the diaper bag after a few tries, she often finds it simpler to continue doing so rather than risk a missed item if her spouse (who doesn't have any practice yet at the fine art of gathering baby things) does the packing. And as time marches on, Mom finds she can pack a diaper bag in the dark with no flashlight and one hand tied to a screaming, hungry toddler. Dad, on the other hand, has gotten enough clues to stay away from the process...and it is probably a pretty fair assumption that he might screw up if he does have to pack the bag. Mom gets stuck doing all of something in the name of efficiency, and Dad misses out (and opts out and gets pushed out).
The Juggle accurately talks about the downfall of such a practice. When expertise is not shared (even a little), one parent can feel stuck and the other can feel left out and secretly inept. But when both parents claim enough experience doing any one task - and hold onto this claim by at least dabbling in it once in a while to relieve their partner - we can circumvent the majority of the problem.
Taking this one step farther than The Juggle gets into in today's post, we can work to eliminate the feeling of superiority that the 'more expert' parent can lord over the 'less expert' parent. This takes a purposeful, conscious effort. I know, because even with my own deep commitment to equally shared parenting, I can find myself thinking (and sometimes even saying out loud to Marc) that I know how to do something better than he does. Luckily, he (and I) have gotten pretty good at recognizing any 'stupid husband' attitude quickly and we can often correct it before a full sentence of wifely 'instruction' leaves my mouth. I'm grateful for the reminder that I can lapse, since having an equal partner is so, so, so much sweeter than proving myself the better at anything.
No, we don't have to strive for a 50/50 split of any specific chore. No, we don't have to refrain from constructively teaching each other what we know - that only makes sense. Yes, sometimes one person is just naturally gifted at packing a diaper bag like nobody's business - hooray, think of this as a bonus...a little bit of special talent in your very own family! But the more we can share every chore enough to pinch hit for each other without basic instruction, and the more we make room for the fact that our partner is inherently perfectly capable of any chore, the freer we'll be. And the more our partners will be able to truly take a hands-on role in what it takes to raise our kids and care for our home.
Finally, we have to consider that our partners might even have a better way of doing something than we do. Take that diaper bag. The Juggle's writer sighs about how her husband didn't even put a second spare diaper in it. Or a snack. Or a mat to lay the baby on for changing the diaper. Or a toy to amuse the baby during a diaper change. Or a change of clothes for poops gone wrong. Or even wipes. Oh, my God! Marc used to pack the diaper bag like that all the time. In fact, the 'diaper bag' quickly morphed into a diaper in his back pocket and a package of wipes in a compartment in the car trunk or his bike bag. A toy was a leaf or some grass at the park. A change of clothes was what he procured once he quickly beat a path for home with a soggy, messy kid on the very few times that this actually happened. Not necessarily my way, but I have to admit it did simplify his outings with a baby! I could learn a thing or two.